Unharvested crop could still influence flax market

There is so much flax left in fields that the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission has asked the Canadian Grain Commission if it could conduct a spring harvest survey sample of the crop.

“They have agreed to that and they’re just working on the details right now and will announce something in the next month or so,” SaskFlax executive director Wayne Thompson told delegates attending the group’s annual general meeting.

Saskatchewan Agriculture estimated 21 percent of the province’s flax crop was unharvested as of Nov. 21.

Shane Stokke, chair of SaskFlax, believes the number is much higher.

“I’ve heard 35 to 40 percent of flax acres are still in the field,” he said at the AGM.

That would amount to about 350,000 acres covered by snow, which is a sizable amount of production that is going to be of questionable quality.

Michelle Beaith, agronomist with SaskFlax, said there hasn’t been a lot of research on how the crop overwinters.

But anecdotal evidence suggests it greatly depends on what stage the crop was at when the snow came.

The good thing is that it got cold early this year so the crop was somewhat acclimatized to the conditions.

“The hope is that it might not affect it too much,” she said.

Flax plants get “freeze-dried,” so they rarely germinate over the winter, which should help preserve crop quality. But there was already some damage due to a wet fall and high disease pressure.

Beaith said there is no data on what happens to yields.

“What can happen is boll drop,” she said.

Dave Seifridt, procurement manager with Agrocorp Processing, has had first-hand experience with flax that has overwintered.

“Sometimes it looks OK and the next time it just looks mousy,” he said.

“Then you’re looking at discounted flax markets and that’s never any fun to market into.”

The flax market looked like it was going to stay flat in 2019-20 but it started to rise when it became clear that a large portion of the crop was going to remain unharvested.

Buyers like Seifridt had to buy flax on the open market to replace unfilled delivery contracts. That buying spree has come to an end as buyers have hit all their delivery time frames.

“I’m getting offered flax now cheaper than it was prior to Christmas when I needed it. Now I don’t really need it,” he said.

Seifridt expects prices to hover in the $13 to $14 per bushel range for the remainder of 2019-20.

If the remaining crop comes off the field in good condition in spring, there will be a narrow window to ship it out before the new crop is harvested. Farmers may just decide to bin it until prices improve.

If the crop is in poor condition, farmers will likely flood the market with product, driving down prices.

Seifridt worries that growers are going to be in a rush to take their flax off in the spring so they can prepare the fields for planting of the 2020-21 crop.

“If guys start panicking and taking it off tough, the homes for tough flax are pretty much non-existent,” he said.

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